A few months ago I attended a trade show for meeting planners. It was at a beautiful downtown Chicago hotel. There were workshops, then a luncheon. Then there was time to visit the exhibit hall.
When I first entered the exhibit area, I was overwhelmed. There were hundreds of booths. Some were promoting resorts, conference centers and hotels. Some displays were for cities, sponsored by their convention and visitors bureaus. But what struck me were the giveaways.
Aisles of tchotchkes! The exhibitors wanted to scan your name badge, which linked them to your contact information so they could send you PR email blasts promoting their location. The giveaways were to entice you to come into their booths so you could be scanned. What I saw was junk—pens, lanyards, flashlights, key chains, little stuffed animals … cheap, badly made junk.
Were these made with materials (mostly plastic) manufactured in poisonous factories that pollute air and water in poor countries? Were they assembled by impoverished workers in deplorable and dangerous conditions? They were likely sent a long way (most likely, from China or India) using fossil fuels (ships and trucks).
People picked up these things because they are free and sometimes cute (little stuffed mooses!). I predict that most, if not all, will be thrown away within a few months or a year because people are cleaning and simplifying or because they look at them and think, “Why do I have this? I don’t need this. It’s just more clutter in my office.”
So the tchotchkes will end up in a landfill, impacting the planet. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt.
What do you think? Do you like free giveaways of this type? Do you pick them up? Do you think about what they do to the planet?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.